Friday, March 2, 2012

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery

I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery
by Cynthia Grady, illustrated by Michele Wood
Eerdmans, 2012. Unpaged. Poetry.

A beautiful, beautiful book about a drear subject. Each page has the name of a type of quilt block, followed by a poem, followed by a runner of the quilt block named, and then a brief comment on the historical background of the poem. Grady's poems are tightly and brilliantly structured: "The poems are written in unrhymed verse, ten lines of ten syllables, to mimic the square shape of a quilt block. To reflect the three layers of a quilt, I've engaged three references in each poem: a biblical or spiritual reference, a musical reference, and a sewing or fiber arts reference . . . ." Singing and sewing eases the heart of an aging house slave. Two black children think they will be whipped for listening outside the window of a whites' only schoolroom and tracing letters in the dirt, but the teacher pulls aside the curtain and speaks loudly so they can hear and learn. Black jockeys, fishermen, caregivers, blacksmiths, fill these pages with their stories and their fierce need to be free. Michele Wood's paintings, patterned, patchworked, and brilliantly colored amplify and add to the beauty of the poetry.

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